Red Sox Notebook: Garrett Richards’ struggles ‘not about spin rates,’ Alex Cora says

Alex Cora is trying to pump up Garrett Richards.

Richards, who will take the ball against the Oakland A’s on Saturday, is getting hit harder than all but 3% of MLB pitchers this year.

Since MLB announced it would crack down on pitchers using foreign substances, Richards has made three starts and the numbers have been painful to look at: 11 1/3 innings, 13 earned runs, 21 hits, five walks, six strikeouts, five homers allowed, .375 average allowed and an 1.232 OPS allowed.

Cora’s approach: talk him up.

But instead of talking about Richards’ recent starts, it sounds like the Red Sox manager is showing him his curveball spin rate, which still ranks No. 1 in baseball, and his fastball spin rate, which ranks better than all but 4% of the league.

“We keep showing him his numbers and stuff, which is very important and we’re comparing it to some of the best pitchers in the league and the numbers are there,” Cora said.

Unfortunately, most of the other numbers have been awful. The StatCast data shows that Richards is getting hit harder than almost anyone else.

His last outing, he allowed five runs in the first two innings, though he settled down and managed to get through 5 2/3 innings overall while allowing 11 hits.

“For how bad it was early, he did a good job afterwards changing speed, using that changeup, speeding up with the velocity,” Cora said. “He was able to go to both sides of the plate. I’ve been saying all along that fastball has been cutting a lot, and if everything is going away from the righties, they’re going to start diving and going out there. The fact he was able to throw something the other way — he kept them honest.”

Richards has been honest about how difficult it’s been for him to pitch without any grip-enhancing substances. He taught himself how to throw a changeup, a pitch he had previously thrown just a handful of times in his 10-year big league career.

“This is not about spin rates,” Cora said. “There are certain days you have nothing and you’ve got to give us five innings, somehow some way, you have to find a way. And I do believe the last one, at least toward the end, he did that. So we’re looking forward for him to do the same here.”

Asked if Richards’ struggles were more mental than anything else, Cora said, “He’s been talking a lot about it, but I feel it has to be a combination of everything, him making adjustments and other stuff that’s going on mechanically, as far as pitch selection.”

Reinforcements coming

The Red Sox are hoping to get a pair of their injured players back in the mix next week.

Christian Arroyo, who suffered a bruised knee in an outfield collision with Kiké Hernandez, will rehab with Triple-A Worcester this weekend and should return to the Red Sox on Monday, when they begin a three-game set with the Angels.

Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez and Michael Chavis have been getting most of the at-bats at second base in Arroyo’s absence. The Red Sox have struggled to find consistency at the position. They rank 23rd in MLB with a .648 OPS from second base.

Kevin Plawecki, out with a hamstring injury, is with the team in Oakland as an emergency catcher. Cora said backup catchers don’t need rehab assignments, so Plawecki will be activated when he’s ready, or if one of Christian Vazquez or Connor Wong get hurt.

Staying in the zone

Rafael Devers said Friday he thinks a big reason why he’s been so successful this year is because of his plate discipline.

He’s swinging at 40% of the pitches he sees outside the zone, the lowest rate since 2018, while he’s swinging at 81% of the strikes he sees, the highest rate of his career.

“I try to make my adjustments,” said Devers, who leads the majors with 69 RBI entering Friday. “I’m trying to improve my plate discipline and focus on the balls I actually want to hit that are in the zone. It’s an adjustment every single day but I feel like I’ve improved a lot in that. Obviously I’m an aggressive swinger. I don’t see that many pitches. When I get one I try to hit it as far as I can. At the same time I’m trying to improve my discipline.”

Whitlock in the spotlight

MLB announced the winners for the Players of the Month for June, and Red Sox reliever Garrett Whitlock received some votes. The award was won by A’s closer Lou Trivino (12 2/3 innings, 0.71 ERA, 11 strikeouts, six saves in June) but Whitlock (3-0, 0.66 ERA, 13 2/3 innings, 15 strikeouts) would have been equally deserving. …

The Red Sox should have at least one pitcher, Matt Barnes, make the All-Star team. Pitchers and reserves will be announced Sunday at 5:30 p.m. …

The Sox have the fifth-best run-differential in the AL (plus-62) entering Friday, but the best record (51-31). …

The Sox are an MLB-best 46-4 (.920) when scoring four or more runs. They are 40-3 when scoring five or more runs, 34-1 when scoring six or more runs and 25-0 when scoring seven or more runs.

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